Tamarak Trail is looking like an interesting alternative to card-based deck builders | Hands-on preview

by on March 10, 2023

The rise of the deck building Roguelike has been a wonderful thing to witness as a fan of the genre, but with so many new card games releasing it’s fair to say that some might be experiencing a bit of fatigue with the genre. It doesn’t help that a lot of these games are very similar, borrowing heavily from Slay the Spire and never looking back. Tamarak Trail has a clever way of feeling unique in this crowded marketplace, by swapping its cards for dice.

Each run of Tamarak Trail takes place on a hike through the wilderness, but a wilderness full of horrific monsters that want to eat you. As is so often the case in a deck builder, this is represented by a big ole spider web of icons that you have to travel between. Moving your chosen character (of the three available) to one of these icons will trigger an event, like a battle, a situation that asks you to choose from a few options or a chest containing something helpful. If you’ve played any of these games before this will be instantly familiar, and will get you in the mood for some cards.

A screenshot of Tamarak Trail

Unfortunately cards aren’t what you get here, it’s all about the dice. These standard six sided cubes have different abilities on each face, and on your turn you can roll each dice once as long as you have enough CP. The abilities are pretty straightforward (especially in the early moments of a run) with little pictures representing attacks, shields to block incoming damage and of course various status effects you can apply to yourself or others. As is traditional in this particular flavour of deck building game you’ll always know what moves the enemy is going to use in advance, but instead of getting to react accordingly you just sort of have to hope that fortune favours you.

When the dice aren’t feeling helpful the game gets a little frustrating, and especially once tougher monsters appear you’ll be punished pretty harshly when this happens. There are a few ways to try and counteract this though, with each character given a special ability they can use once per battle to try and level the playing field. My favourite character has the ability to do a full reroll when needed, which really helps when you’re in a pickle. When facing longer fights though, one use is never really enough.

A screenshot of Tamarak Trail

If you’re going to last long on the Tamarak Trail you’ll need to make your own luck, and that’s where the deck building part of the game comes in. Instead of getting new cards to upgrade a deck though, in this game you’re given new sides to stick on dice. It’s a really interesting way to experiment with improving your chances in battle, and with a bit of thought your dice can really complement each other. On my first vaguely successful run I covered one of my dice in harmful status effects to slowly weaken the vicious beasts of the forest, and on the other I stuck a load of attacks that granted bonus rolls if they were used on an enemy suffering from those effects. When you work out how to use the cubes to your advantage the game really starts to shine.

As well as different dice sides, you also find dice cores on your travels. These apply bonuses to every ability stuck to your dice and add another layer of complexity to the game. It’s fun to experiment with different combinations, but all too often it’ll end up being for nothing when the dice screw you over yet again.

There another slightly odd mechanic in Tamarak trail I want to talk about, and that’s dice bouncing. Some abilities get buffed by the amount of time the dice clatter into each other, and I don’t really understand why. It just means when clicking, holding and releasing the dice you have to use a stupid amount of force and hope for the best, and it isn’t even remotely skill based. You can also auto roll the dice if you don’t enjoy doing this though, so I guess that’s something.

A screenshot of Tamarak Trail

One aspect of the Tamarak Trail I really appreciated was the hand drawn art style. Occasionally on your adventure you end up in a little village inhabited by anthropomorphic animals running shops, and it’s just an adorable sight. It’s not often a deck building game puts a lot of effort into the visuals, so it really stands out.

Tamarak Trail is looking like an interesting alternative to card based deck building games, but I am a little worried about how much luck will affect the gameplay in the full game. It has a lot of clever ideas that help mitigate this somewhat though, and I’ll be keen to get back on the trail later this year and roll them bones again.

Tamarak Trail is coming to PC in Q2 2023.